Solar damage, skin cancer and the harsh NZ environment.

By Matt Clark, Aesthetic Solutions It has long puzzled me that we don’t have a magic pill that fixes sunburn. Why have physicians, biochemists and scientists not discovered how to solve this common problem? The answer is that the body is too complex and the immune system is not fully understood. As professional beauty consultants we are at the forefront of understanding and advising our clients how to protect and recover from this common summer consequence. Beauty therapists see more skin than any other professional, yet we need to be more educated on the danger signs, effects and remedies of over-exposure. Having visited a variety of countries, I have realised that New Zealand is a unique environment. We are subject to a number of unique variables that contribute to creating sunburn and potential skin cancer, much more than other countries’ environments. Becoming burnt in a short space of time is very easy and you never feel it happening. The real consequences are scary, with over 200 people dying of melanoma skin cancer here every year. It is a sobering thought that we have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. We often have constant winds so don’t feel the burn effect, whereas in countries like Australia the wind levels are generally much lower so the heat is more apparent. Additionally, in comparative countries more sunshine hours allow skin to create a tan and build up resistance. This is not to say that constant exposure is good but that lighter coloured skins will burn more quickly. Other unique elements such as the ozone hole, shorter daylight saving hours and summers arriving later combine to create a dangerous recipe. This article focuses on the factors and hidden dangers of our environment, including excess exposure, oxidative stress, photobiology, protective management, dermal nutrition and professional care programmes that help to rejuvenate skin and maintain it in optimum youthful condition. Avoid sunbeds It has been argued that it is better to have a few sunbed treatments to prepare for summer. A recent study by the Queensland Institute of Medical Research found that people under 35 who use solariums face a 98 percent risk of skin cancer. Even one visit raises the risk by 22 percent. Sunbeds are considered dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. The body and skin reacts physically and chemically to the sun. To lose heat the skin sweats, transferring heat from a hot to a colder surface via water excretion. In so doing the skin becomes very hot, causing chemical reactions. Enzymes are heat sensitive and changes in temperature trigger a denaturing process whereby the body’s immune system reacts to protect it. When rubber, plastic or paper is left out in the sun for a long time it disintegrates. How amazing, then, that the skin survives these attacks when exposed to the sun for decades. Our constant, colder winds have a cooling effect on the skin, raising the possibility of our burning without knowing it. Other factors such as the larger ozone hole contribute to the risk of being exposed to higher doses of UVB, which is 1000 times stronger than UVA. As sunlight passes through the atmosphere, all UVC and approximately 90 percent of UVB radiation is absorbed by ozone, water vapour, oxygen and carbon dioxide. However, UVA radiation is less affected by the atmosphere. UV rays are powerful enough to split apart molecules in our skin. When oxygen is irradiated with UV light it will absorb energy in the molecule, thereby changing its molecular configuration. This so-called ‘excited’ or ‘singlet’ oxygen has an electron that is elevated to a higher level of energy and acts like a ‘villain’, attacking fatty tissue to stabilise itself. This is fundamental to understanding ‘free radical’ activity. A free radical is any atom or molecule that has one or more unpaired electrons and is capable of independent existence. Part of a process called Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS, it occurs throughout the body constantly but if our system is not strong enough to fight it the result is oxidative stress, leading to a variety of diseases. This is why it is critical to maintain high levels of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients in the blood stream and avoid excess damaging toxins from alcohol, cigarettes, junk food and excess UV exposure. The science Sunlight is a small part of radiant energy classified as electromagnetic radiation. Photons, or light particles, in the form of ultraviolet light (UVA&B) enter the skin and transfer their energy into living matter that produces a good or bad biological effect. This interaction with living matter is called photobiology. The fundamental concept is that a substance must absorb light to produce a chemical or physical change in that substance. Free radicals are created when the light enters the skin, reacting with the molecules of our cells, increasing instability and causing the free radical electron cascade effect that ultimately results in cancerous cells. Most UV light is absorbed by the ozone layer but in New Zealand we are exposed to the ozone hole which sits over Antarctica, especially in the summer. UV, which is only five percent of the sun’s energy, targets the breakdown of protein and specifically our DNA, resulting in sun damage, including cancer. UVB has 1,000 times more energy than UVA, but if you have a healthy acid mantle over the outer layer (stratum corneum) of your epidermis, much is reflected. Also, using a SPF30+ sun block will dramatically reduce the risk of absorption. When these rays scatter down into the epidermis they trigger the melansomes inside the melanocytes, which contain melanin, then released as dark pigment, resulting in tanned skin. Shiny, wet skin or oily skin absorbs more light than dry, dull skin. To create a tan you need both UVA and B to enter the skin, however both these rays can enter the dermis and degrade the baseline structure of the skin that contains collagen, elastin and GAGs etc. UVA and B trigger enzymatic changes, protein and amino acid damage in the skin, resulting in both immediate and delayed effects. This is part of the immune system’s cascade, resulting in inflammation which, while not fully understood, is part of a natural repair process. Gene p53 instigates a process called ‘apoptosis’ which destroys damaged cells that are beyond repair, but even moderate exposure can damage this gene and further exposure can destroy its ‘clean up’ action, leaving mutated cells in the skin to mutate again and form other mutant cells. Without the protective actions of the p53 gene, damaged cells become malignant and turn into skin cancers. Each person’s own unique metabolism and DNA structure will also affect the likelihood of producing skin cancer cells. Excess UV exposure causes the keratinocytes to become damaged, dehydrate and suffer from nuclear (DNA) damage, but if they are healthy they can repair themselves fairly quickly. Being fed antioxidant nutrients within 12 hours of an attack will initiate the repair process. Constant re-exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. It is also known that the Langerhan cells, that gobble up invaders, are dramatically affected by UV damage and can disappear for days after exposure until they are replenished by new ones from bone marrow. The production of melanin is the first physiochemical defence mechanism to help protect against further damage. UVA and B together trigger this effect, which begins within minutes of exposure. There is, however, a delayed effect where the skin darkens to a point where maximum production of melanocytes and keratinocytes occurs. Apart from skin cancer, there are a number of long-term effects of over-exposure to UV rays. These include photo-ageing of the skin’s surface resulting in poor texture and abnormalities/pigmentation spots; loss of elastin and collagen strength and reduced production; suppression of the immune system; dry wrinkled and cross-linked skin; dilated blood vessels producing reddened skin; hypo-pigmentation or whitening of the skin; and solar elastosis conditioning and thinning of the skin. Dermal Nutrition Because they are focused solely on the outer surface of the skin, many people forget their dermal nutrition. However, the inner constitution of the body is where all the complex biological reactions come from. Our skin acts like the bark of a tree, protecting us from the outer environment, but it needs vital nutrient building blocks to perform this important task. Good dermal nutrition includes consuming plenty of good antioxidants – vegetables, nuts and fruit – so you have a high level of internal free radical protection. Drink cold, fresh clean water at all times, especially when in a hot environment and after exposure to sun. With the exception of urination, most of your normal water loss is through the mouth during breathing, but additional water is lost through the skin’s heat regulation process through sweating. We recommend a powerful internal antioxidant called SuperAntioxidant by BeautyNutraceuticals™ to improve skin condition which is essential for rebuilding the skin during dermal treatments or recovery post-sunburn. Essential fatty acids are found in the skin and body and should be taken after excess exposure to UV light as they have an anti-inflammatory effect, helping to maintain the structure of the cell and its organelles, as well as maintaining critical bi-lipid layers in the outer surface of the epidermis. These can be found in Smooth Skin Capsules produced by BeautyNutraceuticals™. As a professional therapist it is very important to understand basic nutrition and the ingredients that help assist longevity of the skin and make up its vital building blocks. Good skin care lotions, creams and serums are merely pots of nutrients transported into our skin, made from the same ingredients we swallow every day. The time when UV Rays are at their most extreme, is normally at 1pm and even on cloudy days the UV rays get through. Even if you have protective clothes on, if you have already received painful excess exposure, stay out of the sun because the heat will trigger the immune system to react even more. To help deal with excessive exposure from UV rays, drink plenty of cold, pure water and take antioxidants and EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids). Cool the skin down with cold water or swipes then apply an antioxidant cream to the exposed area for several days and at all costs avoid being in the sun or a hot environment. Make sure you use a 30+ SPF UVA and B protective sun block, and wear a hat and sunglasses. DNA damaged skin may not show until years later, so prevention will always be the best cure. For identifying skin cancers follow the ABCD Test. The danger signs are asymmetry, the shape of one half does not match the other; border, the border is blurred, ragged or spreading; colour, the colour is uneven, changing or has multiple colours; and diameter, there is change in size, usually an increase, and the size is over 5mm. Age management or anti-ageing is taking on new meaning as new ingredients, technology and associated practices are developed. In future, client education will play a bigger role as more science is delivered through beauty therapy professionals and skin specialists. Consumers are becoming more aware of ingredients and more educated about products, however your ability to educate your clients will help to build their confidence in you. There will always be a unique danger from exposure to the sun in New Zealand, which may increase in the future depending on global and environmental changes, however the beauty professional’s priority will always be to maintain their clients’ health and beauty.

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